School Attack Epidemic: The Impact It’s Having on Our Teens

Are you a parent who is worried about your child’s safety when he/she is at school because of the school shootings that are becoming more common?

Does your child feel anxious when he/she hears about school shootings? Do you fear that your child’s school may be exposed to gun violence? Does your child worry more about his/her safety more than they do about their homework?

If the answer to these questions is a yes, you definitely share the worry with every American parent, but also with parents from the rest of the world too.

Though most common in the US, there is no guarantee that school shootings cannot happen elsewhere.

Over the past two decades, the school shootings and massacres occurring in the US have not only taken lives, but permanently traumatized the surviving victims.

In fact, the collateral damage of this unique American crisis is shocking- since the Columbine high school massacre, more than 187,000 students have been exposed to gun violence, which is a staggering number.

Schools are no longer considered a safe ground and we see frequent lockdowns because of threats and false alarms. The attacks have created a strong fear among the worldwide population and emotionally damaged children.

According to the Washington Post, a study from 2015 showed that children who see a gun or a knife assault can be as negatively affected as children who were stabbed or shot.

Children who have experienced such horrific scenes often remain in a hyper-vigilant state and may end up seeing danger where there is none, similarly to those battling with PTSD.

As a parent, grandparent or primary carer, it’s vital that you learn more about the emotions and fears our children are faced with today.

This report is therefore focused on increasing awareness about the epidemic of school attacks and its impact on surviving victims, but on young people from all over the world as well.

School Shootings & the Disastrous Effect on Teens

Sadly, even though it’s very difficult to understand why someone would shoot at young people, particularly in schools and universities, it’s become a prevalent occurrence in the last 18 years.

According to Jean Kim, MD, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University and FDA medical officer, mass shootings are traumatic events which may cause PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) in people who are directly affected and threatened.

The traumatic effect is much higher in children and childhood trauma is known to have a longer and stronger effect on youngsters’ emotional, physical, and mental health.

Taking into account that a feeling of safety and security is pivotal for the child’s proper development, the danger from experiencing a shooting may elevate their risk of mood disorders and anxiety.

As Arash Javanbakht, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Wayne State University points out, these shootings have become a new and sad normal in the lives of Americans and do not just happen in schools, but in other places like bars, movie theaters, concerts, and other unexpected places.

What is less frequently tackled is the effect of these happenings on the rest of the society, including the surviving victims, first responders, people who have lost someone, and those of us who hear about it on the news.

Being a psychiatrist himself, Javanbakht emphasizes that the impact of this type of violence is immense and that the whole society suffers.

What If My Child Witnesses a School Shooting?
According to the American Psychological Association, a child who has survived a mass shooting may come across a lot of problems and challenges and may begin to struggle with:
• nightmares
• stomach and sleeping issues
• headaches
• unwillingness to go back to school
• anxiety
• depression
• changes in academic performance and in relationships with friends and teachers
• loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities
• PTSD symptoms

Teens who have survived a school shooting, but lost a classmate or a teacher find it even harder to deal because their loss happened violently and unexpectedly.

This may diminish the sense of comfort and control in the surviving victim and leave them feeling angry and more vulnerable.

Moreover, it is not just the physical injuries that will need to heal, but also the mental and emotional scars that could change the child’s life forever. Similarly to us adults, children also experience shock, sadness, anger, and fear when they learn someone is dying brutally and suddenly.

But, they express thoughts and emotions in a distinct manner.

In terms of their mental health, they may begin to struggle with nightmares, changes in mood, intrusive thoughts and their physical health may be affected by different types of aches.

As parents, it’s vital to look for these changes if our child is a victim of a mass school shooting or went through another traumatic experience.

Also, we need to talk with their teachers to learn about their performance in school and consult a professional therapist if you notice that the child is unable to cope.

Different School Ages: Different Reactions
If you are a parent of a child who has survived a school shooting, you should know that they will need different type of reassurance and answers to questions depending on their age.

Here are some tips that can help you learn in which direction to go:

• Children in early elementary need concise and short information and reassurance that their school and home are safe and that we are here to protect them.